- Role: Podcaster and tabletop game designer
- Location: Philadelphia, PA, USA
QRM: Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do in the games industry?
Jeff: I work primarily in the world of tabletop roleplaying games and LARP, producing podcasts to spotlight other people's games and to boost marginalized voices within the community and games industry, and designing games of my own when I can't find something on the market that I want to experience. I'm also the unofficial LARP designer of the Olive Garden restaurant.
QRM: How long have you been involved in the game industry, and what projects have you worked on? What are you working on currently?
Jeff: I started my first podcast, Party Of One—an Actual Play podcast focused on two-player roleplaying experiences—in October of 2015. Then, I launched my second show, All My Fantasy Children—a character creation, storytelling, and worldbuilding podcast powered by listener prompts—in July of 2016. Around that time I also started designing games, starting with Empty Orchestra, a freeform LARP played at a karaoke bar. The most notable game I've worked on by far, that I alluded to in the previous question, is When You're Here You're Family, a LARP designed to be played at an Olive Garden during their Unlimited Soup Salad and Breadsticks promotion, which was featured on Kotaku. Olive Garden has still, at the time of this interview, not gotten in touch with me about this seminal work, btw.
I'm currently working on the upcoming Mission: Accomplished!, a satirical RPG of Super-Spies and Office Meetings.
QRM: What inspired you to get started in the games industry?
Jeff: Roleplaying games have been in my blood as long as I remember, ever since my brothers and I found a copy of Middle-earth Role Playing at a garage sale in rural Oklahoma. I love storytelling in any form—comics, professional wrestling, even in my dayjob in the ad industry—but RPGs and LARP are special to me.
QRM: In what ways do you feel your experiences as a queer person manifest in the games you work on, and influence the work you do?
Jeff: That's a really good question!
Starting with game design, I think looking at the work I've made, identity, the identities we choosem and the costs of choosing those identities all plays a big part. In Empty Orchestra, you're playing young revolutionaries in a totalitarian regime undertaking, and it's all about that last triumphant, doomed gesture, where you undeniably say, "This is who I am, and this is what I believe in." In Gran Corazon Unmasked In The Main Event!, a LARP about a luchador on the day they're booked to unmask, the story of the game is about accepting a change in your identity, and how that change impacts the relationships in your life. All of that is heavily drawn from my experiences as a queer person, coming to terms with changes in my identity and coming to accept and love myself, and make myself known as a public queer figure.
Within podcasts, I try to use my platform to boost voices and support marginalized creators because, as a queer person, I know how difficult it can be to find a platform and to get a seat at the (gaming) table. And I aim to create complex, positive representation for queer voices in and out of game because I think that's hugely important, especially when presented honestly and, to an extent, that has to come from queer creators.
QRM: Do you have a favourite queer character—in games or media more generally? If so, what is it about them that makes them your favourite?
Question asked by @kamienw.
Jeff: The 10-year saga of romance, rivalry, heartbreak, and reunion that is the Golden☆Lovers storyline in DDT and NJPW is the greatest piece of fiction ever told, within professional wrestling or other media. I will die on this hill.
QRM: Have you ever encountered roadblocks in trying to include queer characters in games? What do you think is preventing greater diversity within games?
Question asked by @dustinalex91.
Jeff: I haven't within my own work, actually—the really nice thing about being my own boss is I can make my work as queer as I want without anyone telling me no!
I think the biggest hurdle to diversity within the larger games space is one of visibility—marginalized voices of all kinds are still struggling to be seen, often without the same resources or opportunities afforded to them. Real progress has to come from us, and until we're more readily allowed to take the ball and run with it, that's going to be a struggle. I think amazing, AMAZING, work is happening on the indie level—it's just a matter of making people aware of it.
QRM: Why do you think it is important that queer audiences are able to see themselves represented in the games they play, and in the developers who make the games they see? What can we do to improve the industry for queer audiences and devs?
Jeff: Representation is empowerment. Seeing yourself in media—seeing someone and saying, "That's me; they're like me," is one of the most powerful and formative experiences you can have in a story. Especially when, like for a lot of marginalized people, it doesn't happen all that often.
QRM: Have you ever mentored somebody in your role in games, or been mentored? If so, what made these experiences worthwhile for you?
Question asked by @pepelanova.
Jeff: I've never directly mentored anyone, or directly been mentored. BUT, I got a world of good advice when I first started out as a podcaster, and again when I started out in game design, and I try very hard to pay that forward to people coming up now. I try to answer as many podcasting/design questions as I can, use my connections to help people starting out, and give people in the early stages of their careers an opportunity because I remember when Party Of One was just starting out, how valuable it was to get those early opportunities and feedback, and what that did for my confidence.
QRM: In what ways can non-queer folk increase and support queer diversity present within games, as well as in the industry more broadly? How can we all work to support intersectional approaches to diversity, and why is this important?
Jeff: The most important way to support diversity in games is to support diversity in creators. And the biggest thing we can do to make the industry better for queer creators is boosting their profile and helping them get a seat at the table. Buying their games. Subscribing to streams and podcasts. RTing links to their work. Boosting their signal. Reaching out to cons and events to help get them invited as guests. Queer creators are out there, working, right now, and the best way to help them is to be an enthusiastic supporter.
QRM: Is there a message that you would like to share with the queer game players, game studies researchers, and other interested folks who comprise the Queerly Represent Me community?
Jeff: Do The Thing.
It doesn't matter what it is. If it reaches a million people or one person. If it's public-facing or just for you. If it's important to you, that's The Thing, and I want you to Do It. I want to live in the world in which you've Done The Thing, because that world is a little brighter for you having done it.